The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal [NOOK Book]

Overview

A revelatory look at a momentous undertaking-from the workers' point of view

The Panama Canal has long been celebrated as a triumph of American engineering and ingenuity. In The Canal Builders, Julie Greene reveals that this emphasis has obscured a far more remarkable element of the historic enterprise: the tens of thousands of workingmen and workingwomen who traveled from all around the world to build it. Greene looks past the mythology ...
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The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal

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Overview

A revelatory look at a momentous undertaking-from the workers' point of view

The Panama Canal has long been celebrated as a triumph of American engineering and ingenuity. In The Canal Builders, Julie Greene reveals that this emphasis has obscured a far more remarkable element of the historic enterprise: the tens of thousands of workingmen and workingwomen who traveled from all around the world to build it. Greene looks past the mythology surrounding the canal to expose the difficult working conditions and discriminatory policies involved in its construction. Drawing extensively on letters, memoirs, and government documents, the book chronicles both the struggles and the triumphs of the workers and their fami­lies. Prodigiously researched and vividly told, The Canal Builders explores the human dimensions of one of the world's greatest labor mobilizations, and reveals how it launched America's twentieth-century empire.




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Editorial Reviews

David Oshinsky
Less interested in the now fabled engineering feats of the project, [Greene] instead emphasizes the human dimension—the daily lives of the thousands of workers and family members who journeyed to the Canal Zone from all parts of the world seeking adventure, better wages or simply a fresh start…The real strength of The Canal Builders lies not in floating big theories, but in recreating forgotten lives. It is history from the bottom up, and it speaks for 60,000 anonymous people who helped build what President Theodore Roosevelt grandiosely called "the greatest work of the kind ever attempted."
—The New York Times
Library Journal

With the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal coming in five years, interest has resurfaced in a topic that has already prompted study, most notably David McCullough's best-selling The Path Between the Seas(1977). Whereas McCullough told the classic tale of the first major American engineering feat of the 20th century, these two new books recount only parts of the story. Nonetheless, The Canal Builders is more than a footnote. Greene, a labor historian (Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Pure and Simple Politics: The American Federation of Labor and Political Activism, 1881-1917) is well qualified to tell the story, from the bottom up, of the canal's construction. She interweaves newly unearthed documentary records in a social history linked to the emerging "American empire" and its Bull Moose Progressives, racial segregation, and labor movements. An exceptional writer, Greene has produced a narrative that ranges from the canal's inception up to the current political situation regarding Panama and the United States.

By comparison, Seaway to the Future, a revision of Missal's dissertation from the University of Cologne, is a methodological footnote aimed at justifying a "cultural history of empire." Though he is a journalist in Germany, Missal's work here relies more on neo-Marxist theory and speculation than on uncovering new facts. Readers are bombarded with the word empire throughout the text. Yet arrogance and hubris explain as much as empire: the author might have been more to the point if he'd noted that this huge governmental task was an invitation to trouble owing to how labor and racial conditions prevailed inthe United States then. Most libraries will suffice with McCullough's classic; larger ones may find interest in The Canal Builders. Only academic libraries with cultural history collections are likely to find interest in Seaway to the Future.
—William D. Pederson

Kirkus Reviews
The Path Between the Seas, viewed from a decidedly different angle. Most histories focus on the larger-than-life men who conceived the Panama Canal, particularly President Theodore Roosevelt and chief engineers John Stevens and George Goethals. Greene (History/Univ. of Maryland; Pure and Simple Politics: The American Federation of Labor and Political Activism, 1881-1917, 1998, etc.) shifts the focus away from those at the top, instead telling the story of rank-and-file workers on the ground. The incredibly diverse labor force assembled between 1904 and 1914, tens of thousands strong, included Americans, West Indians, Mexicans and workers from all over South America and Europe. When they arrived in the Canal Zone, they soon realized that conditions were brutal. The weather was hot, the work was extremely dangerous, the food was barely edible and early on there were outbreaks of yellow fever, bubonic plague, malaria and pneumonia. An estimated 15,000 workers died during the course of the building project, mostly nonwhites. American officials imported segregationist and anti-union policies from home; nonwhite workers, particularly West Indians, received far lower pay. Dissatisfaction eventually flared up into strikes and threats of riots. The author deftly details how hard-line American policy clashed with the reality of managing an army of laborers in a foreign land. Officials were eventually forced to revise their policies and make concessions to workers on many issues. Greene also examines the resentment generated by American colonialism, ably illustrated with the story of a 1912 riot in Panama City between American personnel and Panamanians that caused the death of one U.S. citizen.American imperialism was frequently at odds with American idealism, the author skillfully demonstrates. A telling quote from Secretary of State Elihu Root conveys the essential: "The Constitution follows the flag, but it does not catch up with it."Engaging labor history, and an astute examination of American policies. Agent: Geri Thoma/Elaine Markson Agency
From the Publisher
"A telling portrait of exploitation, privilege and insularity, backed by a mountain of fresh research." —-The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101011553
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/5/2009
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 333,470
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author


Julie Greene is a professor of history at the University of Maryland at College Park and the author of Pure and Simple Politics: The American Federation of Labor and Political Activism, 1881–1917.

Karen White has been narrating and directing audiobooks for more than a dozen years and has well over one hundred books to her credit. Honored to be included among AudioFile's Best Voices 2010 and 2011, she is also an Audie Award finalist and has earned multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards for narration and direction.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Prologue: President Roosevelt's Steam Shovel 15

1 A Modern State in the Tropics 37

2 "As I Am a True American" 75

3 Silver Lives 123

4 Lay Down Your Shovels 159

5 Progressivism for the World 180

6 The Women's Empire 226

7 Law and Order 267

8 The Riots of Cocoa Grove 303

9 Hercules Comes Home 334

Epilogue 367

Acknowledgments 389

App Total Population Distributed by Place of Birth, Sex, and Period of First Residence in Canal Zone 396

Notes 400

Select Bibliography 450

Index 457

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